The spring and summer of ’08 was when it all started.
I was a newbie feeling my way around the blogosphere, and I kept encountering these colorful, little, round sandwich cookies with feet. I knew what they were, but was oddly fascinated by the popularity of these sweeties, as well as the myriad of discussions pertaining to them, especially the challenges that came with executing them perfectly. Smooth, even shells, and FEET, were imperative to achieving the ultimate beauty of a French macaroon aka macaron, and people seemed to tear their hair out over it. Soon, I was to become one of those people.
I piped vanilla macaron batter designs on the wet chocolate macarons, and chocolate macaron batter designs on the wet vanilla macarons, then let them dry before baking, and it worked! I was positive I would end up with sunken or ugly shells, but they were perfect!
I know summer isn’t the best time to tackle the mighty macaron, because last summer I spent two months or more, on and off, trying to execute these darling little cookies, and the summer humidity gave me flat-chested bitches with lopsided feet. On a slightly positive note, I always got feet, no matter how ugly they turned out.
That said, my kitchen was strewn with baking sheets of different colored little mounds of drying macaron batter, along with failed attempt after attempt. Containers of aging egg whites were lined up like soldiers waiting for their beating, and streaks of tant pour tant (the finely ground amalgamation of almond meal/flour and confectioner’s sugar) was strewn across the floor, marred by perfect kitty paw prints. I had egg white on my face, fingers every color of the rainbow, and disposable pastry bags were the main component of my garbage can. After that fiasco, I thought to myself…
NEVER AGAIN! These are a major pain in the ass! I’ll just buy them and kudos to those bloggers who have mastered them, because, wow, they are mega-bitchy cookies; cookies in a permanent state of PMS!
Well, well, well, wouldn’t you know it, this month’s Daring Baker’s Challenge just so happened to be the mighty macaron. Now I had no choice; I had to do lunch with the bitch, and dinner, and breakfast, and well, she had to live with me for a while, even though she left one hell of a mess the last time she stayed over.
The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S of Baking without Fear. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe. Thanks, Ami! (sorta).
I decided to start with Pierre Hermes’ famous Ispahan macaron. Am I freakin’ crazy? After all I went through that fateful summer, was I really going to attempt to construct the Grand Dame of the macaron when there was a good chance my shells wouldn’t turn out? Yep, because as most of you know or have realized by now, I can never keep things simple. Well, in the case of Mizzz Ispahan, I was going to actually make it simple. Hard to believe, huh?
I decided to ditch the raspberry gelee center and use raspberry jelly instead – as in the stuff in the jar. Does it really have to be a perfect cube of perfectly set raspberry gelee? It tastes the same, so that’s my attempt at simplifying my life via taking shortcuts.
However, I do not want any rose essence, rose oil, rose water, rose syrup, rose anything in my baked goods Why? Because rose tastes likes a baby smells. So does violet aka scented grandma,, and all other flower essences that many love to add to baked goods, to me anyway. Leave the flowers for looking at, smelling, and guilty husbands,thank you; just keep them out of my mouth.
Well, I did sip a hibiscus margarita once. Didn’t gross me out, but meh.
The Ispahan in front was made using Claudia’s recipe/method. The small ones in back, Helen’s. Notice the difference? Flat with bad feet, to puffed with nice feet.
Regardless, I’ve seen so many different versions of the lovely, but mighty Ispahan, that I wasn’t sure which road to take. I decided to go with Trissa’s (of Trissalicious) Ispahan, and well, it’s written as Pierre Hermes’ recipe, so, why not? Plus, her Ispahan looked so gorgeous, I couldn’t resist, even though I knew mine wouldn’t come close, and it didn’t, not by a long shot.
I win for the worst Ispahan macaron ever.
But. it did taste good, thanks to Trissa.
Trissa’s filling is a lychee-white chocolate-rose ganache. Others I have seen call for a rose-lychee buttercream, and yet another, a raspberry-rose buttercream. Well, WHICH IS IT? I didn’t think deep thought was appropriate here considering I needed to just focus on how I wanted to make this queen of a macaron cookie.
I love white chocolate, and I love lychee, so subtract the rose-scented whatever, and I’m good to go. I treated some fresh raspberries with pectin, then dried them in my oven for about 10 hours, grinding them into a powder when they were completely dry. Perfect topping for my soon to be imperfect and ugly Miz Ispahan.
Remember when I said I was going to make things simple for once? Scratch that. I ended up making several flavors, leaving most everything to the last minute. Fooled you all, didn’t I? Actually, I fooled myself too! Here are the macarons I decided to make:
- Ispahan, as mentioned above, in which my mac shells for the large ones baked flat and looked awful. NO DO OVERS, it’ll have to do.
- Lemon zest-thyme shells with a Swiss meringue filling (fold 1 tablespoon of lemon zest and 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves into macaron batter with the egg whites; use yellow gel paste to color. Top with thyme leaves and lemon zest; let dry, then bake.)
- Pumpkin shells with pumpkin cheese filling,
- Chocolate shells with vanilla swirls, dots, stripes and squiggles on top (wasn’t quite sure if it would work, but it did!), filled with white chocolate ganache.
- Vanilla shells with chocolate swirls, dots, stripes and squiggles on top, some filled with chocolate ganache, some filled with Nutella.
- Chocolate shells with cocoa nibs, filled with cocoa nib buttercream
- 100% Vanilla. Vanilla sugar and beans in the shells, vanilla bean buttercream filling; topped with vanilla sugar. I’m definitely a vanilla gal to the highest degree.
Why does it seem like this entry is missing something. OH, that’s right, I haven’t whined about a problem yet! Well, here we go! The recipe Ami provided, by Claudia Fleming, did not result in an aesthetically pleasing macaron for me. I used her recipe for most of my Ispahans, which was a mistake since those were the ones I really wanted to turn out lovely. What did I know? However, I wasn’t going to make another batch of large pink shells, so that was that.
The method she uses requires oven drying, then baking instead of air drying then baking. I really tried; I tried everything, but I kept pulling out sheet after sheet of uneven feet and shells that flattened in certain areas once cooled. I have no idea what I did wrong, but I truly believe it’s the recipe or method because I chose to use Helen’s (of Tartelette) recipe for all the other macaron flavors, and they turned out gorgeous!! Smooth, silky shells, beautiful, perfect feet; chewy on the inside; delicately crispy on the outside. Why didn’t I use Helen’s recipe in the Summer of ’08? Well, factoring in the humidity, those probably wouldn’t have turned out either, so I won’t bash myself in the head over it.
Even though I went overboard as usual, and once again ended up with egg white and tant pour tant in my hair, technicolor fingers, and sheets of piped macarons drying all over my kitchen, this time it was well worth it. Miss Macaron, you have an open invitation (within limits) to stay at my place any time you’d like, and you can thank Helen for that. I’m even considering doing Macaron a Month entries at this rate. So many cool flavor combos to explore!
Recipe from Claudia Fleming
Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)
1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Rub the vanilla bean scrapings into the sugar until the sugar turns the color of the vanilla beans. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the vanilla bean granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.
Yield: 10 dozen. Ami’s note: My yield was much smaller than this. I produced about two dozen filled macaroons.
- ¼ cup granulated sugar + 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 big, fat plump vanilla beans, scraped
- 1¾ cups powdered sugar
- 1 cup almond flour, finely ground
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 3 egg whites, at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup unsalted butter, 2 sticks, at room temperature
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 2 big, fat plump vanilla beans, scraped
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- 2 oz room temperature cream cheese
- 2 oz mascarpone cheese
- ½ cup canned or fresh cooked and pureed pumpkin, cooked down until darker in color.
- ⅔ cup confectioner's sugar
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- Make the Macaron shells
- Rub the vanilla bean scrapings into the sugar until the sugar turns the color of the vanilla beans. Remove 2 tablespoons of this mixture to another bowl (this will be the topping to the macarons). Set both bowls aside.
- In the work bowl of your food processor, combine the powdered sugar, almond flour, and the ½ teaspoon of salt, and process on low until super fine. Sift the almond flour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl.
- In a clean, grease free bowl with electric beaters, or the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the vanilla bean granulated sugar you set aside iin step 1, and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Beat in vanilla extract.
- Add about half of the sifted almond flour mixture at a time to the beaten egg whites and use a rubber spatula to gently fold it into the beaten egg whites until combined. After the last addition of almond flour, continue to fold slowly until the batter falls into ribbons and you can make a figure eight with the batter when you let it drop from the spatula.
- Transfer the macaron batter into a piping bag fitted with a round tip.
- Place 4 dots of the batter in each corner of a rimmed baking sheet, and place a piece of parchment paper over it, using the batter to help adhere the parchment to the baking sheet.
- Pipe the macarons onto the parchment paper in 11/2 -inch (3-cm) circles, spacing at least 1-inch (2-cm) apart.
- Tap the baking sheet on a flat surface several times to release any air bubbles. Sprinkle every other macaron shell with a little of the 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar.
- Let the macarons sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until dry to the touch.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degress C).
- Bake the macarons for 17 minutes, until the feet appear and have risen. The macarons should not stick to the parchment paper. If they do, once cooled, they are not done.
- Transfer the macarons to a wire rack to cool completely before filling.
- In a large bowl with electric beaters, or the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the butter with the vanilla ben scrapings until fluffy and uniform. Sift in the powdered sugar and beat until uniform, then beat in the vanilla extract and cream until light and fluffy.
- Place the buttercream to a piping bag fitted with a round tip.
- Add a piping of buttercream to one macaron shell. Top it with another macaron shell to create a sandwich. Repeat with remaining macaron shells and buttercream.
- Add 1 tablespoon of dark cocoa powder to the almond flour-powdered sugar mixture. Sandwich with Vanilla Buttercream with cacao nibs stirred in, or chocolate ganache or chocolate buttercream.
- Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and thyme to the beaten egg whites then beat in yellow food color gel. Top each macaron shell, before it dries, with some lemon zest and thyme leaves. Make a Swiss meringue (not swiss meringue buttercream, just swiss meringue) for the filling, and place in a pastry bag with a round tip. Pipe the buttercream onto one macaron shell and top with another.
- Add 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice to the almond flour - powdered sugar mix. Add orange gel food color to beaten egg whites.
- In a bowl, beat together both cheeses. Add the pumpkin, the powdered sugar, and pumpkin pie spice. Mix until smooth and uniform. Chill for about an hour or so.
- Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip, then pipe onto every other macaron shell (tinted with powdered or gel orange food color) and sandwich with another macaron shell.
Check out the the Daring Bakers macaron challenge and recipes, HERE.